Springfield Thunderbirds heading into playoffs for the first time
The Springfield Thunderbirds will start the American Hockey League playoffs Wednesday night at home against the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins in a best-of-five game Atlantic Division semifinal series. It's the first time the franchise has qualified for the playoffs since beginning play in 2016.
This past regular season was also a success at the box office for the team.
The Thunderbirds averaged almost 5,400 fans a home game. That's after not playing at all last season because of the pandemic and is a slight bump from the 2019-20 season.
While masks were required at times, the Thunderbirds did not have to restrict attendance this season due to COVID-19. Team broadcaster Ryan Smith said that helped business.
"We wouldn't have to make any tough decisions of if there were nights where we were going to have a full barn, we wouldn't have to find a way to cut it down to a certain percentage," Smith said."
On the ice, Smith said the talent that came with becoming the top minor league team of the NHL's St. Louis Blues helped to drive the Thunderbirds to the playoffs.
Smith said goaltending depth will be a key for Springfield in the postseason. Joel Hofer and Charlie Lindgren have split time in net this season.
"They're more well rested than teams elsewhere in this conference that have had to ride a goalie for two-thirds or three-quarters of the games they played," Smiths said. "I think just that little bit of extra rest that these two goalies have under their belts will certainly play a factor if the T-Birds are going to have success moving forward."
Faceoff Wednesday night is at 7 p.m. at the Mass Mutual Center. Game two is Thursday in Springfield before the action shifts to Pennsylvania for game three and a possible game four if necessary Sunday and Monday. If a fifth game is needed, it would be back in Springfield Wednesday, May 18.